In North Dakota, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant gasifies its coal, then sends half the CO2 through a pipeline into Canada, where a Canadian oil company injects it into an oilfield to help it pump out the remaining oil. The North Dakota plant also captures, isolates, and sells seven other types of gases for various purposes. The highest-profile effort at carbon capture and storage has suffered a rocky history. Beginning in 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy teamed up with seven energy companies to build a prototype of a near-zero-emissions coal-fired power plant.


The FutureGen project (and its successor, the $1.65 billion FutureGen 2.0) aimed to design, construct, and operate a power plant that burns coal to generate electricity, captures 90% of its carbon dioxide emissions, and sequesters the CO2 deep underground beneath layers of impermeable rock. It was hoped that this showcase project, located in downstate Illinois, could be a model for a new generation of power plants across the world, but financial challenges plagued it, and in 2015 the project was suspended. At this point, carbon capture and storage remains too unproven to be the central focus of a clean energy strategy.


We do not know how to ensure that carbon dioxide will stay underground once injected there. Injection might in some cases contaminate groundwater supplies or trigger earthquakes. Injecting carbon dioxide into the ocean would further acidify its waters. Moreover, CCS is energyintensive and decreases the EROI of coal, adding to its cost and the amount we consume.


Finally, many renewable energy advocates fear that pursuing the CCS approach takes the burden off emitters and prolongs our dependence on fossil fuels rather than facilitating a shift to renewables.